Language and Linguistics

Definition of applied linguistics approaches and historical context

Applied Linguistics

The definition of Applied linguistics is an interdisciplinary area of ​​linguistics that focuses on the study of social problems that have to do with language and from which four branches or fields of action derive: mother tongue teaching, second language teaching, language teaching computer-assisted (Computer-Assisted Language Learning – CALL) and communication (and its problems) in different social fields (economic, political, legal, etc.). There are many approaches, among which are: communicative approach, task-based approach (TBLT, for its acronym in English), cooperative language learning approach. 

All of them are based on two major theoretical branches: in the area of ​​linguistics there is structuralism,  in the area of ​​education there are currents of constructivism and cognitivism. The main branches of applied linguistics include bilingualism and multilingualism, systems-mediated communication, conversational analysis, contrastive linguistics, linguistic assessment, literacy, discourse analysis, language pedagogy, second language acquisition, lexicography, linguistic normalization, pragmatics, forensic linguistics and translation. 

From this perspective, there are different subdisciplines of Applied Linguistics that each have their object of study, their research methodology, and therefore their own autonomy. These are the following:

t is a branch of linguistics  that deals with the problems that language poses as a means of social relationship and from which three branches or fields of action derive :

  • Acquisition of the mother tongue.  Acquisition is a tool that helps a natural process to improve basic skills. It establishes the connection between linguistic theory and psychological and pedagogical currents.
  • Second language learning s. (They learn, they are not acquired)
  • Computer-assisted language teaching.

Communication (and its problems) in different social fields (economic, political, legal …)

Approaches of Applied Linguistics

  1. Communicative approach
  2. Task-based approach. (TBLT, for its acronym in English).
  3. Cooperative language learning approach.

All of them are based on two large theoretical branches:

  1. In the area of ​​linguistics, you have structuralism.
  2. In the area of ​​education, there are currents of constructivism and cognitivism.
  3. The main branches of applied linguistics include bilingualism and multilingualism, system-mediated communication, conversational analysis, contrastive linguistics, linguistic evaluation, literacy, discourse analysis, language pedagogy,  second language acquisition, lexicography, linguistic normalization, pragmatic, Forensic linguistics, and translation.

Historical and exponent review

Linguistics as a discipline, is a field that developed especially throughout the twentieth century in the context of English-speaking countries such as the United States, Britain and Australia, especially from the need to teach English to foreigners. According to the Symposium of the American Association of Applied Linguistics (AAAL) The history of this discipline in North America can be divided into four stages from the 20s to the 90s and, according to Angelis, it is possible to speak of an applied linguistics with North American identity.

On the other hand, Australia developed its own contribution to the development of Applied Linguistics that differs from the American and British. Australian linguists in the twentieth century focused more on applying this discipline to modern languages ​​and the language of immigrants, than to English studies. During the 1950s and 1960s he focused on concrete errors and contrastive analysis. During the 1970s, with the failure of this analytical contrast method as a theory to predict errors, applied linguistics began to adopt Noam Chomsky’s theory about Universal Grammar to explain the phenomenon of learning a second language. In the 1990s, a growing number of researchers began using study methods based on cognitive psychology.


The area in which applied linguistics has perhaps experienced a greater evolution is the teaching and learning of second languages. This evolution has included several stages, which have run parallel to the advances that were taking place in linguistics and psychology, and which have brought proposed pairs of new methods and approaches. Thus, for example, the irruption of structuralism, which identifies characteristic linguistic patterns and structures of each language and behavioral psychology, is at the base of the audio linguistic method, which is based on the mechanistic repetition of linguistic structures.

As a translator, it is important to have the ability to transmit written messages from one language to another with fidelity in handling the required lexicons and styles. In addition, the translator must have a high level of mastery of his working language and possess extensive extra-linguistic and cultural knowledge, with a constant awareness of the need for permanent updating, to achieve an adequate translation.

Applied linguistics and translation go hand in hand since its main interest is to offer a theoretical database that allows us to understand and help solve problems and reach solutions to language and leagues.

The following example demonstrates that each language is a totally different structure from another and that to learn another language is to learn the structure and vision of the world that language carries.


   English: Love is blue.


LA was born in the 1940s to provide solutions to the war context. The United States wanted the army to learn other languages, so it is born into a language in use and to solve translation and interpretation problems.

The development of LA as an area of ​​knowledge is linked to the evolution of language teaching in the United States during and after World War II, given the need for contact with allies and speakers of other languages. However, the interests of studies were advancing due to the use of mother tongue, the teaching of a second language or language in contact. In 1958, the first Faculty of Applied Linguistics was established at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. In the late 1958s, applied linguistics coexisted with Chomsky‘s generative-transformational linguistic theory .

In Brazil, LA arose in the 1960s, when the sense of the application of linguistic theory prevailed. However, after the mid-1980s, LA’s vision expanded to investigate language issues posed in social practice.

In the 1990s, LA gained autonomy. It is determined as a field of knowledge and no longer as a discipline because applied linguistics seeks to understand social practices, to understand discursive practices.

Object and applied Linguistics objectives

It is considered that the so-called Applied Linguistics is not an application of Linguistics, that is, of linguistic theories to any object, since LA does not understand that such an application would solve language problems, for example in language classrooms. However, LA focuses on the construction of theories that do not ignore practice, on the contrary, LA considers that theory and practice intertwine in the construction of knowledge, as in DIY work.

Works in Applied Linguistics range from recognizing problems where language use is considered central to their social interference in a specific environment. Under this characteristic lies the main difference between the theoretical-methodological scopes of Linguistics and Applied Linguistics, since the former, according to Kanavillil Rajagopalan, clings to scientific neutrality, disregard for lay opinion, and social. In this context, Linguistics is compared by the same author to the Ivory Tower, followed by what emphasizes the need to approach the research subjects when in the field of practices involving the use of language.

Understanding language as discourse, LA proposes to understand the contemporary world and contribute to an anti-hegemonic agenda in a globalized world. From this perspective, for LA, ethics and power are fundamental pillars. It proposes the deconstruction of hegemonic and counter-hegemonic positions, valuing ideology, power, gender, class, and race.

Theories in LA are built considering the voices of the subjects who live the social practices in which language plays a central role, be they readers, writers, speakers, and/or listeners in the context of teaching/learning and beyond. Heterogeneous, fragmented, and fluid are characteristics of social subjects for LA.

Therefore, Luiz Paulo da Moita Lopes summarizes by explaining that the LA must be constituted by four aspects: the mestizo or nomadic character of this science to dialogue with the world; the relationship between theory and practice for theorizations; the understanding of social subjects as historical; and the existence of ethical limits to science.

Rodrigues and Cerutti-Rizzatti say that LA “has as its object of study socially relevant linguistic problems for which it seeks to construct ineligibilities and that it undertakes a process of resignification of its own limits, proposing interactions with other sciences, due to the understanding of nature necessarily hybrid of its object of study “.

Contributions of AL

AL was understood as a science in that it defined its research object, nomenclature, and its own research procedures. With the maturation of the field of study and the transgressive character that it has acquired over the years, formulating its theoretical models, and collaborating with the advance of knowledge in its field of action and in other research areas, AL has been configured as an area of autonomous and social language studies, among many others, such as Discourse Analysis, Sociolinguistics, Bilingualism, Literacy, Translation, Identity and Culture, Lexicology, educational policies etc.

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